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Glass Houses by Melanie Murphy

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | General Fiction
Glass Houses by Melanie Murphy

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Glass Houses by Melanie Murphy is published with Hachette Ireland and is described as ‘a heartfelt, uplifting novel about family, growth, friendship and hope.’ Partially inspired by a true story, Glass Houses is about finding one’s place in the world and learning to be comfortable in one’s own skin.

Jenna and Rosie Walker are two sisters who have taken very different paths in life. Rosie, on paper, appears to have it all but her reality is a very different one. Jenna has yet to find her feet and is struggling daily to get out of bed. When Jenna finds herself homeless and with no support she has no option but to come knocking on the door of Rosie’s plush apartment. With her bedraggled and unwell cat Bertie by her side, Jenna rocks up to Rosie’s home with no expectations, just a need for temporary shelter. She has given up on herself and has no focus or motivation to do anything. Rosie had a very successful career but had to make unexpected changes in her life. Now working in a bar, she has a huge mortgage and a sister with no direction and Rosie is feeling under pressure to stay afloat.

Retired GP, David Dolan is Rosie’s neighbour. David left his beloved home, Avalon, after the death of his wife June four years ago, moving into this modern apartment with his son, Peter. David has been looking back over his career as a doctor and has started to question some of the medical techniques he incorporated into his daily practice. Now, with a sense of guilt, he wonders if he should have had a more hands-on approach and been more amenable to those who had looked for his assistance. June had seen the world very differently to David and following her death he considers the idea that perhaps June had been right all along.

Peter Dolan is an online musical success story . Now on the verge of a tour, he carries doubts and insecurities about his voice and his stage presence. Being behind a camera is one thing but stepping out into the real world again is a much scarier prospect. Peter is very much aware of the possible impact all this exposure could have on him but is not prepared for what unfolds.

In the garden of David and Peter’s beloved family home is a glass house that was originally built for June. Now a wreck, David has a plan to bring it back to its former glory. David hasn’t returned to his home since June died but now the time has come. He gathers a group of individuals, including (and with some persuasion) Jenna, Rosie and Peter, and encourages them to come together over gardening.

‘In the middle of the garden sits the old Victorian glasshouse – the reason we’re all here – screaming at the life all around it. The ornate glass and iron building is bigger than I expected. It’s white, with a brick base, and it’s calling out to be rescued from ruin: some of the windows are smashed, there are more leaves growing on it than in it and the glass is decorated with lashings of white bird droppings and spray paint’

Each person in this motley crew is struggling with a mental health issue. (In the opening pages of Glass Houses there is an author’s note highlighting these as potential triggers for some readers.) David hopes that through gardening therapy and working together outdoors, this bunch of strangers can relate, open up and perhaps aid each other in their recovery. Through hard work, tears, meditation and open conversations, David has decided to adopt June’s approach to living, and is determined to fix these people and perhaps himself along the way.

There are many complex themes running through this novel and, at times, Glass Houses does over-simplify certain scenarios but Melanie Murphy’s heart is clearly in the right place, creating a charming, and ultimately uplifting, read. The setting of Avalon is beautifully depicted with a magical quality where one could believe that anything is possible. As each individual embarks on their own personal journey, the healing process begins to unfold. Nature has a way of grounding people and helping them to explore different paths. The chattels of life that once were important are no longer of such relevance and the roots of new friendships are planted. Ideas are seeded alongside the plants and the clouds shift ever so slightly.

Glass Houses by Melanie MurphyGlass Houses is a sweet tale, one that evokes a mix of emotions, an affecting read in so many ways. With a mix of ordinary, extraordinary and flawed individuals, it is a story of self-discovery, of blossoming friendships while also examining the complexities of life in all its varieties and colours.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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